Jamie Whincup feels the recent upgrades to the Pukekohe Park Raceway track surface has turned the layout into almost a ‘new circuit’.
The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship took to the venue today for two 40-minute Practice sessions ahead of the penultimate round of the season.
In the weeks leading up to the event, sections of the 2.91km circuit were resurfaced and levelled out, including the ultra fast Turn 1, the entire back straight from Turns 4-5 and Turn 10.
The Red Bull Racing driver finished up Practice 2 in second place, with the alterations to the track creating plenty of set-up work for his Holden team.
“The track’s got a different dynamic,” said Whincup.
“They’ve resurfaced a couple of areas, completely changed the feel and the layout of the circuit.
“Engineering-wise, we’re all going flat-out behind the scenes today to try to get the car suited to what almost feels like a new circuit.”
While both of today’s sessions were run in the dry, incremental weather is forecasted for the remainder of the weekend.
Whincup expects the added spice of water will provide even more of a challenge for the drivers over the rest of the weekend.
“Those new sections are going to be pretty hectic in the wet, I’m predicting they’ll be really slippery, to be honest,” he added.
“Hopefully, if it rains tomorrow, the Safety Car can go out and assess what the back straight’s going to be like. If it’s all good, we’ll go hard.
“Today was supposed to be the worst day, but we were lucky enough to get dry running.
“Who knows, we’ll see what happens, try to put the right tyres on at the right time and go hard.”
Whincup’s stable-mate and title rival Shane van Gisbergen had his own drama across the two sessions, ending a tough day at Pukekohe sixth fastest in Practice 2.
It was a vast improvement from the opening session, in which he found himself languishing 19th before a late lap in Practice 2 promoted him to sixth fastest for the day.
To go along with the disappointing pace, van Gisbgergen also had a run through the Turn 5/6 escape road during Practice 1.
“The first session was junk,” van Gisbergen admitted to Speedcafe.com.
“but we did some pretty good work between the sessions, worked the boys hard over the break, and straight away the car was much nicer.
“Then we were able to go about tuning it properly.”
Between the two sessions, the Kiwi’s team managed to make critical changes ahead of Practice 2, focussing their efforts on the front end of the #97 Commodore.
“The change we thought would be really good for the first session was just irreversible, so that was a shame, and we had to take the time to make it better,” he explained.
“Second practice was much better, stayed on track the whole session and felt really good. We made good progress, so we’re feeling better for tomorrow.”
Supercars hit the track again on Saturday for Qualifying at 12:25pm NZDT, ahead of Race 23 of the championship at 16:10 NZDT.